ANDOVER,HAMPSHIRE/UNITED KINGDOM-NOVEMBER 6 2019:A district nurse visits a ninety-four year old patient at his home to treat for pulmonary edema and head/brain injury.

Challenges Facing Home Health Caregivers During COVID-19 Pandemic

By Vicki Hoak

The pandemic has emphasized the value of home health caregivers. Their contribution has been overshadowed for decades, but now it is very clear how important their work is to the well-being of older Americans, people with disabilities, and medically-fragile children.

As families were urged to stay at home to stop the spread of COVID-19, home care agencies and their staff became all the more important for preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting the most vulnerable from the disease. Home health aides offer clients one-to-one care and continual monitoring of changes in conditions — all in the safety of one’s own home.

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Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

Telehealth and the Future of Long-Term Care

Join us on Wednesday, April 7 for further discussion of these issues during our virtual event, “Triumphs & Tensions of the Telehealth Boom.

By Tara Sklar

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the trend away from providing health care and long-term care in institutional settings in ways not previously imagined; the result of a reckoning with the massacre that disproportionately killed hundreds of thousands of older adults living in nursing homes or similar congregate facilities, along with the staff who cared for them.

Beyond the immediate staffing and infection control issues at hand, this juncture leads to a larger question, in the U.S. and abroad: how can we best care for an older population in the decades — and not just years — ahead?

The major advances and shortfalls that have surfaced during the pandemic around telehealth and its related technologies in digital home health care are essential to this discussion.

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Senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home.

Seniors’ Perspectives on Dementia and Decision-Making

By James Toomey

In order to make a decision recognized in law — to enter into or enforce a contract, buy or sell property, or get married or divorced — an individual must have the mental capacity the law requires for the decision. As people, especially older adults, develop dementia, their decision-making abilities are increasingly compromised, and the law begins to find that they lack capacity for particular decisions.

The standards governing capacity determinations, however, are notorious for being vague, inconsistently applied, and excessively curtailing the rights of those with dementia. Part of the problem, I think, is the lack of an agreed-upon normative theory for when in the course of dementia the law ought to intervene in individual decision-making. That is why, here on Bill of Health, I’ve previously called for understanding the perspectives of seniors — the population affected by the doctrine of capacity most closely and most often — on this normative question.

In my recent publication “Understanding the Perspectives of Seniors on Dementia and Decision-Making” in AJOB Empirical Bioethics, I’ve begun to do so, reporting the results of an empirical study that I conducted with the Petrie-Flom Student Fellowship in the 2018-19 academic year. The study, which involved an online survey of and interviews with older adults, revealed a heterogeneity of ways of thinking about the problem, supporting a flexible legal doctrine that would assist people in making their own choices. Notwithstanding the diversity, however, the data reveal several conclusions and tensions of interest to academics and healthcare and legal practitioners.

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hospital equipment

Taking Control During COVID-19 Through Advance Care Planning

By Stephanie Anderson and Carole Montgomery

A deep divide exists in the American health care system between patients’ values and the care they receive.

Let’s start with a story – Marcus was in his mid-40’s when he underwent high-risk heart surgery during which he suffered a brain injury. Afterward, the surgeons at first reassured his family that the surgery itself was successful (his heart was working fine) in spite of his brain injury.

Unfortunately, after many days in the ICU he remained unconscious and was not able to get off the ventilator. Specialists told the family that his brain injury was severe, and he would likely not be able to carry on a meaningful conversation or live independently ever again.

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Busy Nurse's Station In Modern Hospital

A Physician Reflects on COVID-19 and Advance Care Planning

By Shoshana Ungerleider

It was the end of a 24 hour shift in the ICU when the 85-year-old woman I had just admitted with end stage heart failure began having trouble breathing. While I knew she did not desire “aggressive measures” taken to prolong her life, I wondered what that meant in the context of this moment. Even though I was a young medical resident, I knew without swift intervention, she would not be able to survive the night. I ran into the waiting room to search for her son, her medical decision maker, but he had gone home for the night.

I returned to the bedside to see that my patient was tiring as her breathing was becoming shallow and fast. She was awake and I sat down to explain why she was feeling breathless. I explained that her condition had rapidly worsened and asked if she had ever considered a scenario where she may need a breathing tube. She had not. As her oxygen levels dropped, it quickly became clear that we had to act. What wasn’t clear to me was whether this frail woman would actually survive this hospital stay, and if she truly understood what intubation and mechanical ventilation were and whether this would cause her to suffer.

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empty hospital bed

The COVID-19 Pandemic Highlights the Necessity of Advance Care Planning

By Marian Grant

The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the importance of clearly expressing personal wishes for medical care in emergency situations.

Health systems and providers across the country are seeing how important it is that all of us discuss our medical goals in advance. Not having one’s medical goals known in advance puts a burden on frontline clinicians and loved ones, because it leaves important medical decisions up to them.

You can and should speak up about the kind of medical care you would want, and tell doctors what matters to you. You also should tell those who matter most to you what you’d want if you couldn’t make decisions for yourself.

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Kirkland, WA / USA - circa March 2020: Street view of the Life Care Center of Kirkland building, ground zero of the coronavirus outbreak in Kirkland.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part II)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

This post is part II of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In the first installment we assessed the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outlined the infection risks for residents and workers. In this second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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Gloved hand holding medical rapid test labeled COVID-19 over sheet of paper listing the test result as negative.

How COVID-19 Could Drive Improvements in Care Facilities (Part I)

By Nicolas Terry, LLM and Tara Sklar, JD, MPH

Introduction

This post is part I of a two-part series on COVID-19 and care facilities. In this first installment we assess the centrality of care facilities to the COVID-19 pandemic and outline the infection risks for residents and workers. In the second installment we will explore how improved regulation and enforcement, combined with liability rules, provide the best path forward to improve an industry that, despite its deficiencies, claims it deserves exceptional immunity.

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Empty hospital food tray with plate and glass

The Ethics of Dementia Advance Directives for Receiving Oral Food and Water

By Beatrice Brown

Last month, Kaiser Health News (KHN) told the story of Susan Saran, a woman diagnosed with frontotemporal dementia. According to KHN, Saran consulted a lawyer and signed an advance directive for dementia after experiencing two brain hemorrhages in 2018. The document directs caregivers to withhold hand feeding and fluids at the end of life for those with advanced dementia. However, her continuing care retirement community told her that they could not honor her wishes because “the center is required by state and federal law to offer regular daily meals, with feeding assistance if necessary.” As noted by Dr. Stanley Terman, “Even when people document their choices – while they still have the ability to do so – there’s no guarantee those instructions will be honored.”

According to KHN, these dementia advance directives are “a controversial form” of voluntarily stopping eating and drinking (VSED), wherein a terminally ill patient who still retains mental capacity refuses food and water to hasten their death. VSED is considered by many to be a morally acceptable extension of a patient’s right to refuse treatment, a right codified in the landmark cases of Karen Ann Quinlan and Nancy Cruzan. The ethical question here, then, is whether the refusal of hand feeding and fluids requested in dementia advance directives is another form of VSED and is thus morally permissible, or if this refusal is ethically distinct from VSED and is perhaps morally prohibited. Read More

a home hub featuring icons of all the tasks it can assist with in a thinking cloud

Exploring Elder Care Robotics: Voice Assistants and Home Hubs

This article is part of a four-part series that researches how robotics are being developed for aging care and investigates their ethical implications. In our first article, we explored emotional companion robots, which soothe and comfort patients experiencing loneliness, depression, or diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Today, we look at voice assistants and home hubs—robots designed to coordinate and simplify daily tasks around the house. 

What are Voice Assistants and Home Hubs?

Unlike other robots in this series, you are probably familiar with voice assistants and home hubs. These robots, which include Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Siri, Samsung Ballie, and Nest, respond to human commands (voice, motion, or input) to complete tasks like preheating the oven, playing a podcast, or refilling a prescription. Several devices also incorporate artificial intelligence (AI) to learn household patterns and anticipate needs.  However, unlike social robots (covered later in this series), voice assistants do not proactively engage with users unless programmed or commanded.   Read More